Fate Brought the Leger-Walkers Back Together on the Palouse
PULLMAN, Wash. ─ Krystal Leger-Walker and Charlisse Leger-Walker had no intention to play basketball at the same university, and their almost five-year age difference nearly solidified this deal.
Opportunity struck when Krystal transferred to Washington State from Northern Colorado just before Charlisse signed on to play for the WSU women's basketball team. And just like that, the sisters from New Zealand were set to play one season of NCAA Division I basketball together.
"It was very unique, and you know, we never planned this," Krystal said. "We weren't expected to go to college together, let alone play on the same basketball team."
Before the two of them could set foot together in Pullman, the world came to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions about when will sports be played again became ever-changing.
Krystal had one year left to play collegiately, but the question of when that season would begin was difficult to answer in the fall of 2020. At first the Pac-12 had decided to stop all athletic competitions until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however the Conference changed course in late fall and determined basketball will be played starting in mid-December.
Before games for the 2020-21 season began, the NCAA announced that basketball student-athletes would be granted an extra year of eligibility after the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19. And with that ruling the door opened for the Kiwi sisters to further develop their chemistry together as Cougars.
Although their collegiate basketball paths were not supposed to cross, both Charlisse and Krystal were no strangers to each other's game. The Leger-Walkers are part of New Zealand's National Women's Basketball Team, known worldwide as the Tall Ferns. Their family name runs deep inside the Tall Fern program, as their mother Leanne Walker, guided New Zealand to its only two Olympic appearances in women's basketball in 2000 and 2004.
"I think, for both of us, representing New Zealand has always been a big goal," Charlisse said. "Watching [our mom] and kind of just following in her footsteps was something we always wanted to do,".
In 2018, Charlisse made her history as the youngest player to suit-up for the Tall Ferns at just 16-years-old. The younger Leger-Walker said she feels fortunate to play for the Tall Ferns and that playing in international competitions at a young age helped her prepare to play at a high level in the United States. Over the summer, the sisters represented their home countries at the FIBA Asia Cup, it marked the first time that Krystal and Charlisse had suited up together for the Tall Ferns at the senior level.
The sister's time on the Tall Ferns has built a basis for their chemistry as teammates, but Charlisse said her bond with Krystal has flourished during their two years together in Pullman.
"I think a whole lot translates over onto the court, you know, just being able to read each other in a way that no one else can," Charlisse said. "We kind of just have this look that we can give each other: it's the look of 'come on you can do this' or 'you've got this don't worry about it'. That type of stuff I think is really special."
In their first season together at WSU, Krystal and Charlisse made history, as the Cougars earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament; something the team hadn't experienced in exactly 30 years. WSU is on track to make it back to the NCAA tournament, which would be the first time in program history that women's basketball would go to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. The powerful duo represents the Cougars this season as current Pac-12 leaders: Charlisse in points (391) and Krystal in assists (109).
Krystal said there is healthy competition between the two but reiterates that there are never hard-feelings as the sisters just want to push each other to be as successful as possible.
"It's just a natural sibling thing, but it's definitely healthy. It's never any bad blood between us; we know that anything we do comes from a genuine place," Krystal said. "It's awesome to see [Charlisse] succeed and I'm sure she feels the same way,".
Krystal said something special that all her favorite memories as a Cougar have in common is that Charlisse has a part in every memorable moment. Reflecting about her time at WSU, the redshirt-fifth-year senior credited head coach Kamie Ethridge for encouraging toughness and resilience on and off the court. Krystal also reminisced on locker room celebrations and singing the fight song with her team as times she will always cherish.
As the Leger-Walker's approach their final games together as collegiate teammates, Krystal said she isn't thinking about her time wearing the crimson and gray coming to an end.
"I don't want to get too high or too low going into these last few games," Krystal said. "As things come and as we get a little closer [to the end of the season], I'm sure those emotions will start to come up as we get there. But for now, [I'm] just really trying to focus on one game at a time,".
During their two seasons in Pullman together, Charlisse and Krystal are especially grateful for having a hand in the growth of WSU women's basketball program. Getting unexpected time together in college and strengthening their sibling and teammate connection was the cherry on top of their success.
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